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Victims No More: Congo’s Badass Women Mechanics (PHOTOS)

Goma's girls are picking up saws and drills to conquer a man's trade.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where two decades of war have birthed a reputation of sexual violence and conflict minerals, young women are bucking gender roles to wield power tools and don workman jumpsuits. Rachel Muliri, a 16-year-old carpenter, stands outside her work site off a back alley of Goma, the eastern capital. "I just wanted to be touching tools and using them, making ceilings and iron sheets," she says of her chosen trade. Muliri was recommended for the job, where she's building a ceiling, after her trainer took note of her the young student's work ethic. After this gig, she plans to stay in the construction business. “I will have an advantage over others who apply if they are boys, [because] they will be curious to engage a girl,” she says of her job prospects.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

At a training program for at-risk youth in Goma called ETN, a few girls are scattered between the traditionally male-oriented professions. In the back of a carpentry class otherwise filled with boys, 17-year-old Justine takes diligent notes. She chose to study woodwork and construction over more domestic, women-filled courses like tailoring and cooking simply because she liked it most.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

At the ETN training compound, where sparks flying from welders in the front open yard and thread spools from machines in the tailoring classrooms, women mingle around disassembled SUVs used for mechanics training. Pascal Badibanga, the center's director, explains that the organization pulls vulnerable kids from the roughest neighborhoods around Goma and lets them pick a vocational training, from electrical work to sewing.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

Jeane and Jeane learn how to drive and repair cars in mechanics class. In a city filled with international organizations and rough, crumbling roads, they hope to find steady work in auto repair shops or with NGOs as drivers. On the right, Jeane, a victim of sexual violence, says she considers the rest of their class, all boys, as brothers because "they accept us." The older Jeane agrees, there is no advantage or disadvantage to being a girl in the mechanics program. "We find we are all regarded at the same level."

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

Four young women, between the ages of 18 and 23, work on engine parts in a mechanic's garage off a back road in Goma. “Most of them are astonished, others appreciate what we are doing and say this is fantastic,” Wivine Mukongya (far right) says. Working for an NGO as a driver is one of the most sought-after professions in the area.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

Sixteen-year-old Kubuya Mushingano (left) and 17-year-old Dorcas Lukonge work in the yard of their auto body shop. “I joined mechanics simply because I noticed that where I live there are a lot of women tailors,” Lukonge says. And, she notes, "it's not just for ladies to choose those" culturally gender-appropriate paths. Mushingano was planning to do tailoring, but when she learned mechanics was an option, she switched. "I just felt excited to learn," she says.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

Women learn welding and metal work at the entrance to ETN's training compound. Many of them are victims of sexual violence or impoverished upbringings who joined the program to become self-reliant in a strongly patriarchal society.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

These mechanics-in-training have been convincing other female students to learn car repair in the hope of a more prosperous livelihood. Some of the potential recruits have taken some convincing: They are afraid of slipping under the car or injuring their eyesight. “We try to show them the future advantages of this job,” Mukongya (closest to the foreground) says.

Nina Strochlic/The Daily Beast

Mushingano and Lukonge work with power tools building car parts, like windows and doors, which are their two favorite activities on the job. "In this garage they encourage us every day," Lukonge says. Outside the yard, their families aren't entirely warmed to the idea of the women breaking into a male profession. They believe their girls are only working in the field to meet men. "When someone is on a trip there are people to encourage them and others to discourage them," Lukonge says.